The Ford Model A also known as the A-Model Ford or the A, and also the A-Bone among customizers and hotrodders was the second huge success for the Ford Motor Company, after its predecessor, the Model T. First produced in October 1927, it wasn’t sold until December, it replaced the venerable Model T, which had been produced for 18 years. This new Model A, a previous model had actually used the name from 1903 to 1904, was designated a 1928 model and was available in four standard colors.
By February 1929, one million Model A’s had been sold, and by July two million. The range of body styles ran from the Tudor, to the Town Car with a duel cowl. In March 1930, Model A sales hit three million, and there were nine body styles available.
Model A production ended in March 1932, after 4,858,644 had been made in all body styles. Its successor was the Model B, which featured an updated 4 cylinder engine as well as the Model 18, which introduced Ford’s new flathead sidevalve V8 engine.
Prices for the Model A ranged from $385 for a Roadster to $1400 for the top of the line Town Car. The engine was a water cooled L-head inline 4-cylinder with a displacement of 201 cu in. This engine provided 40 hp. The top speed was around 65 mph. The Model A had a 103.5 in. wheelbase with a final drive ratio of 3.77:1. The transmission was a conventional 3-speed sliding gear manual unsynchronized unit with a single speed reverse. The Model A had 4-wheel mechanical drum brakes. The 1930 and 1931 models were available with stainless radiator cowling and headlamp housings.
The Model A came in a wide variety of styles including a Coupe- Standard and Deluxe, the Business Coupe, Sport Coupe, Roadster Coupe- Standard and Deluxe, Convertible Cabriolet, Convertible Sedan, Phaeton- Standard and Deluxe, Tudor Sedan- Standard and Deluxe, Town Car, Fordor- 2 window- Standard and Deluxe, Fordor-3 window- Standard and Deluxe, Victoria, Station Wagon Taxicab, Truck and Commercial. The very rare Special Coupe started production in March 1928 and ended mid-1929.
The Model A was the first Ford to use the standard set of driver controls with conventional clutch and brake pedals, throttle, and gearshift. Previous Fords used controls that had become uncommon to drivers of other makes. The Model A’s fuel tank was situated in the cowl, between the engine compartment’s fire wall and the dash panel. It had a visual fuel gauge, and the fuel flowed to the carburetor by gravity. A rear-view mirror was optional. In cooler climates, owners could purchase an aftermarket cast iron unit to place over the exhaust manifold to provide heat to the cab. A small door provided adjustment of the amount of hot air entering the cab. The Model A was the first car to have safety glass in the windshield.
The Soviet company GAZ, which started as a joint venture between Ford and the Soviet Union, made a licensed version 1932-1936. This served as the basis for the FAI and BA-20 armored cars which saw use as Soviet scout vehicles in the early stages of WW11.
In addition to the United States, Ford made the Model A in plants in Argentina, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom.
In Europe, where in some countries cars were taxed according to engine size, Ford in the UK manufactured the Model A with a smaller displacement engine of 2043 cc providing a claimed output of 28 hp. However the engine equated to a British fiscal horsepower of 14.9 hp compared to the 24 hp of the larger engine and attracted a punitive car tax levy of 1 pound per fiscal hp in the UK. It therefore was expensive to own and too heavy and thirsty to achieve volume sales, and so unable to compete in the newly developing mass market, while also too crude to compete as a luxury product. European manufactured Model As failed to achieve the sales success in Europe that would greet their smaller successor in England and Germany.
From the mid 1910s through the early 1920s, Ford dominated the automotive market with its Model T. However, during the mid 1920s, this dominance eroded as competitors, especially General Motors caught up with Ford’s mass production system and began to outcompete Ford in some areas, especially by offering more powerful engines, new convenience features, or cosmetic customization. Also, features Henry Ford considered to be unnecessary, such as electric starters, were gradually shifting in the public’s perception from luxuries to essentials.
Ford’s sales force recognized the threat and advised Henry to respond to it. He resisted at first but the T’s sagging market share finally forced him to admit a replacement was needed. When he finally agreed to begin development of this new model, he focused on the mechanical aspects and on what today is called design for manufacturability (DFM), which he had always strongly embraced and for which the Model T production system was famous for. Although ultimately successful, the development of the Model A included many problems that had to be resolved. For example the die stamping of parts from sheet metal, which the Ford company had led to new heights of development of the Model T production system was something Henry had always been ambivalent about; it had brought success, but he felt that it was not the best choice for durability. He was determined that the Model A would rely more on drop forgings than the Model T; but his ideas to improve the DFM of forging did not prove practical. Eventually, Ford’s engineers persuaded him to relent, lest the Model A’s production cost force up its retail price too much. Henry’s disdain for cosmetic vanity as applied to automobiles led him to leave the Model A’s styling to a team led by his son Edsel, even though he would take credit for it despite his son doing more of the work.
The Model A was well represented in media of the era since it was one of the most common cars. Model kits are still available from hobby shops today as stock cars or hot rods.
Perhaps in reference to the remarkable upgrade from the previous Model T, a song was written about the Model A by Irving Kaufman called Henry’s Made a Lady Out of Lizzy, a reference to the moniker Tin Lizzy given to the Model T.
Several Model As have obtained fame over the years at college football games and special events. A customized roadster pickup built be George Barris won two straight America’s Most Beautiful Roadster Awards. Between October 1992 to December 1994, Hector Quevedo and his son Hugo, Drove a 1928 Model A 22,000 miles from his home in Punta Arenas, Chile to Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. The car needed minimal service, including a flat tire and transmission work I Nicaragua, and is now housed in the Henry Ford Museum. Charlie Ryan’s song Hot Rod Lincoln featured a Model A with a Lincoln flathead V12 and other modifications. Once again my friends, Happy Motoring!